WAILUA — Horses make good grief counselors because they tune into people’s emotions.
“They live by looking out for each other, and look to humans as part of the herd,” said Sandy Webster, consultant executive director for Healing Horses Kauai.
Horses are social animals, so they have the ability to recognize human emotions and respond to them. For example, if someone is receptive and open, they are gentle. But if a person is aggressive or has a strong personality, the horse can become stubborn, Webster said.
Because the gentle giants can mirror human emotions, they can help people process grief, said Jeffrey Pears, bereavement care coordinator for Kauai Hospice,
Pears, along with Webster, will be co-hosting a “Horses Healing Human Grief Workshop” Saturday.
Participants can groom, walk and hug five horses around the 2.5-acre property of Healing Horses Kauai just off Kapaa Bypass Road.
“If there’s any unconditional love, it’s the love of a horse,” Webster said.
At times, horses act as a surrogate, taking the place of a loved one, Pears said.
“When they run their hand through the horse’s mane, it’s like they are running their hand through their loved ones’ hair. Or, when they hug the horse, they can imagine they are hugging a loved one,” he said.
Participants can tell the horse their secrets, as if they are conversing with a loved one, Webster added.
“Secrets are safe with horses,” she said.
Another perk of the workshop is being able to talk to people going through similar circumstances.
“During the walk, participants are invited to talk to each other and share their experiences,” he said. “At the end, they become friends and make plans with each other.”
Pears was inspired to partner with Healing Horses Kauai after a horse helped him through a counseling session.
“I was doing grief counseling on the phone while I was driving, so I had to pull over,” he said. “As I was standing by a pasture, a horse came up to the fence, and started nuzzling and gumming me. It was like the horse was ministering to me while I was ministering to the griever.”
The first Horses Healing Human Grief Workshop rolled out in 2013. It is offered twice a year.
Pears hopes people who attend Saturday’s program will leave with a weight lifted off their shoulders.
“I want them to have a sense of relief from the intensity of grief they are experiencing,” he said.
The free workshop is open to anyone grieving a loss. Pre-registration is required.